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Tampa soldier honored with military-style procession; funeral is Saturday

BRANDON

One day in June, Annette Cuzzupe-Kirk popped into her car stereo a CD of songs her Army medic son gave her before he left for Afghanistan.

"Use this to remember me," was written on the front.

Cuzzupe-Kirk thought her son meant until he got back home.

But when she heard the lyrics, she quickly shut off the music.

"I just promised myself that I was not going to listen to it anymore unless I absolutely had to," she said.

She'll hear it again Friday night at a memorial service for her son, 23-year-old Paul O. Cuzzupe II, who died in combat on Aug. 8. The selections include Tom Petty's Free Falling, Jim Croce's I'll Have to Say I Love You in a Song, and a track that made Mrs. Cuzzupe-Kirk wince: Thrice's Come All You Weary.

The Army flew his body home to Tampa on Wednesday, in a casket draped with an American flag.

By the time Cuzzupe's body arrived at MacDill Air Force Base about 10:30 a.m, crowds had gathered on Bayshore Boulevard, in downtown Tampa and along State Road 60 to watch the procession to the Hillsboro Memorial Funeral Home in Brandon.

Military personnel, law enforcement officers, strangers and friends saluted the white hearse as it passed. Car dealerships and restaurants on S.R. 60 hung their flags at half-staff.

"I think right now he's looking down on us and smiling," Cuzzupe's mother said at the funeral home. Her other two sons, 22-year-old twins Anthony and David, and 11-year-old daughter, Alexis, sat nearby.

Cuzzupe's funeral will be at 10 a.m. Saturday at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Seffner.

Cuzzupe, born on the Army base at Fort Riley, Kan., graduated from Armwood High School in 2005. He became an Army combat medic and was deployed to Afghanistan less than two months ago.

A week before he died, Cuzzupe was given the Army Commendation Medal for trying to save an Afghani child's life.

On Aug. 8, insurgents attacked his unit in Akhtar-Mohammad-Khan with an improvised explosive device, leaving Cuzzupe with injuries that killed him, the Department of Defense said.

When Cuzzupe died, his grandmother, Judy Allard, combed Facebook pages of other guys in his unit. She learned that her grandson had earned a new nickname while overseas: Care Bear.

"It's so fitting," Allard said, smiling. "That compassion that he had."

She remembered the night before Cuzzupe left, when she cooked him his favorite meal: stuffed cabbage and pierogies.

Allard said her grandson called as often as he could, but the family knew he was busy. It was hard not to worry.

In a MySpace blog post on his first Thanksgiving away from home, Cuzzupe wrote, "I find (myself) not scared, just trying to be mentally prepared. . . . I only hope that my father and grandfather are looking down me and watching me."

Cuzzupe's father, who was also in the Army, died 14 months ago in a car crash. Family friend Iris Mussenden said as the oldest son, Cuzzupe felt responsible to be the "man of the house."

One of Cuzzupe's younger brothers, Anthony, said he always tried to follow in Cuzzupe's footsteps.

"He always kind of set the example for us," Anthony Cuzzupe said. "Whatever he did, he always tried to be the best at it."

When they couldn't talk to him, Cuzzupe's family and friends listened to his voice through his music. He was the lead guitarist and singer in a Christian rock band called the Seed, which recorded its own CD.

Sandra Cruz, a Sunday school teacher at St. Francis, said Cuzzupe often performed worship songs for her classes. The kids loved to sing along.

Cuzzupe's mother said music was always a huge part of her son's life. "Not just learning how to play it," she said, "but listening to and understanding the words, correlating certain songs with his life."

Like the lyrics of that Thrice song Cuzzupe burned on the CD for his mother. A message that she heard too soon.

"Come all you weary,

Come gather round near me,

Find rest for your souls."

Kim Wilmath can be reached at (813)661-2442 or kwilmath@sptimes.com.

Tampa soldier honored with military-style procession; funeral is Saturday 08/18/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 18, 2010 11:10pm]
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